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Updated: August 6, 2013 13:45 IST

India’s leaders-in-waiting

Govindan Nair
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India The future is now
India The future is now

Shashi Tharoor induces a dozen young parliamentarians to embark on this visioning exercise. Digging deep into their textbooks, the youthful politicians outline their dreams for India. Informatively, they list developmental challenges and, with sincerity and passion, prescribe solutions. The end result is a reflection of the thinking of leaders of tomorrow and a thorough, if somewhat simplistic, wish-list of interventions to advance India on the path to their utopia.

Democracy’s strength lies in its capacity to build and adapt institutions. Tharoor himself has in the past challenged the prevailing “dysfunctional institutional equilibrium” (in the words of Francis Fukuyama) and called for systemic reform to meet the need of the times. In his preface to the book under review, Tharoor points to the putative regression of India from ‘emerging market’ to ‘submerging polity’, and wonders: “Where do young political leaders in India fit into this uncertain future?” If this book comprises of pious platitudes of political naifs, it must be held against Tharoor that he did not goad his contributors to introspect deeply enough.

True, a couple of writers voice concerns about corruption and express discomfort at rubbing shoulders with alleged criminals in Parliament. Some lament the increasing divisiveness and sectarianism of political mobilisation. Kalikesh Singh Deo worries that “the credibility of the political class is at its lowest” and mentions the “crying need for introspection”. Milind Deora upbraids “parties that stratify societies for electoral gain”. Jay Panda is confident that the dynamics of politics will be determined in the future by development and governance. Many argue for inclusiveness and empowerment. But all seem chary of touching on how to fix the rot in the innards of the system.

Nine of the 12 parliamentarians in the book are from so-called political families. Understandably, they do not ask nor explain why talented young people with less helpful lineage shun politics. While their visions for India are no doubt sincere and laudable, they are not best placed to address the inherent and inherited flaws in the present scheme of things. Given the public cynicism, verging on revulsion, of politics, and the impasse in our parliamentary system in recent times, it would be reasonable to expect a book like this one to reflect on the future of parliamentary democracy in India. Disappointingly, tomorrow’s leaders have side-stepped the tough questions that will determine the future of our polity, choosing not to reveal their thinking on issues that they themselves will be called upon to arbitrate. Most of the contributing parliamentarians are from the major national parties. Predictably, they toe their respective party lines. BJP members dwell on reclaiming the lost glory of India and are confident that “India can go back to being the power that it once was — some 500 years ago”. Congress representatives faithfully tout the mantras of inclusiveness and participation. Members of the BJD rationalise coalition politics. The lone communist contributor expounds on economic liberalisation being responsible for widening inequalities. Voices of the Dravidian parties, caste-based outfits and tribal regions are missing, which is a pity.

Well-researched and cogently argued, the articles present the principal concerns of the young leaders. Education is discussed by more than a couple of them: the crucial importance of universal enrolment and completion of basic schooling, the need to develop employable skills and to enhance the overall quality of education. Young Hamdullah Sayeed underscores that education “makes Indians sensitive, tolerant and respectful of differences” — essential elements of a successful democracy. Hunger and widespread malnourishment are seen as a disgrace to a country aspiring to be a superpower, and regarded as issues deserving the highest priority. Increased and meaningful participation of women in the democratic process is to be fostered. Scindia reminds us that “there are more elected women in India alone than in the rest of the world put together”. The continuing importance of agriculture to the economy and to livelihoods is emphasised, especially the need for research and modernisation. Anantkumar Hegde argues that the lack of a comprehensive agriculture policy is a major drawback, forgetting that it was the NDA government that formulated the first ever national policy on agriculture. The comparative neglect of urban planning is regretted and the Chinese experience cited as a template for infrastructure development. Some contributors have been outspoken on the touchy matter of caste-based reservations.

The most remarkable aspect of this book is the unbounded optimism of the youthful politicians in the future of India. While some predict that this will be the “Indian Century”, others see India as a developed nation in as little as ten years. Be it their naiveté or hubris, it is nonetheless heart-warming that the leaders of tomorrow are so positive about our future, the more so when they resolve to work together for the larger good.

(Govindan Nair is a retired civil servant now based in Chennai)

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It's kind of very easy to lament and at the same time, be positive about
our future. After all, the monkey is not with the croc in the water.
It's safely sitting on a tree top and watching us!

from:  Abhishek Pandey
Posted on: Aug 8, 2013 at 13:16 IST

Visionaries are a must for any country. Armchair philosophers who are not of the missionary kind serves very little purpose. India's biggest problem by and large is the self serving people taking to politics to build dynasties and support cronies with little regard to their prime function for which they take the oath of office. The new generation may have to bring in the real egalitarian democratic model and mindset to make Indian democracy to flourish. They will have to demolish the perception of the 'untouchable ruling class' profile of a politician to a down to earth variety with a service motto!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 12:19 IST

Here are some of the lines that i absolutely loved:
"Understandably, they do not ask nor explain why talented young people
with less helpful lineage shun politics" LOL :D

I am a little pessimistic about the unbounded optimism! Blind faith is is
not good. Developed country in 10 years?! Are you kidding me?
Come on, i know that i don't want to be a nay sayer, but i refuse to live
in the La la land. Let us not get dreamy, but first get out of a state of
denial so that we can then think of systemically working on the issues.

from:  Joe
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 08:47 IST

It is definitely worthwhile for the younger generation to voice cogent, and hopefully intellectually honest opinions about the state of the union. Fine. But the statement that the author makes here "Understandably, they do not ask nor explain why talented young people with less helpful lineage shun politics." is incredibly disingenuous. What is so understandable about it? In fact, isn't nepotism and the ruling of the old guard one of the causes of concern espoused rather righteously by the "gang of 12"? Why isn't that an open question in this book? Shouldn't an analysis that begins with an investigation of how we contribute to the perceived morass be deemed crucial to this seemingly introspective work? In the absence of these questions this is just another self-serving book with the central narrative being "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine in turn".

from:  Sri Raghavan
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 08:21 IST

@Jose We have young leaders like Akhilesh Yadav and Jagan Reddy. they
are deep routed in all controversies including corruption cases. Age
doesnot matter what matter is right state of mind and integrity.

from:  Srinivas Rao
Posted on: Aug 7, 2013 at 05:33 IST

The present political class is largely based on family dynasty, caste, religion and simply a chaser of influence, money and division of society. This situation exists even while the country recently has generated a number of entrepreuners and visionaries. The unfortunate part of it is that the majority of the population has been kept ignorant by the traditional politicians, who have also encouraged them to depend on the government for handouts. The younger entrepreuner and visionary community has to find an imaginative way to get the populace become more aware of the realities and believe in hard work and productivity. To that extent, the burden lies on the younger generation.

from:  Giri Girishankar
Posted on: Aug 6, 2013 at 21:06 IST

Nine of the 12 parliamentarians in the book are from so-called
political families, speaks volumes of their credibility. These
politicians owes everything to their political family connections and
certainly not because they have understood travails of common citizens.
Knowing the way the political families, without exception, have looted
the gullible public so that they can perpetuate the dynasties. It no
rocket science that the dynastic political culture is the bane and “the
credibility of the political class is at its lowest” and there is
hardly any need for “crying need for introspection”. Shashi Tharoor
please spare us the pain of going through these the youthful
politicians outline their dreams for India. They are no visionaries and
can do us great favor by staying away from the political limelight on
the borrowed weight of their family and make way for talented young
people with less helpful lineage to participate in democratic process.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Aug 6, 2013 at 20:47 IST

If in 2014 the party to which Tharoor belongs now , elects criminals, futuristic expedient
thinkers like him has to quit his party and lead a new vibrant one

from:  Swaminathan
Posted on: Aug 6, 2013 at 18:51 IST

It is high time that the present politicians of age more than 65 and all having any cases with moral turpitude charged against them retire and younger ones with clean image take charge to give some credibility to politics in India. India is wealthy country with welath of people and natural resources. Political leadership and lack of vision is killing this country. Politics has become the resort of criminals here. God save the country from these politicians. Each and every elected representative should find the felt need of his constituents and use his time and energy to serve the people like servent leader.

from:  Jose Thottippattu
Posted on: Aug 6, 2013 at 15:22 IST
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